STORY BY COLE NORUM
Generve Charles remembers there were 15 minutes left when she entered her first game since tearing her ACL. She remembers being nervous from the pressures of a new team and coach. She remembers telling herself not to mess up. And she remembers knowing exactly where to look.
“I knew where my dad was sitting. I could see him, and he was so pumped,” Charles said.
But there is one thing Charles , a member of the Drake women’s soccer team, doesn’t remember about her first match as a member of the Haiti Women’s National Football Team.
“I ended up scoring and I don’t know if I even really remember doing it,” Charles said, laughing. “I was just kind of shocked.”
Charles’ father, who was born in Haiti and attended college in her hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin, wasn’t the only one celebrating.
“All the girls on the team were super, super excited for me when I scored, and even after, I just got a lot of good feedback from everybody on the team,” she said.
Charles’ journey to the Haiti national team began weeks prior. At the beginning of the summer, as Charles was recovering from an ACL injury that forced her to miss the entire 2013 Drake season, she was contacted by the Haiti national team’s head coach, Shek Borkowski. He was looking for collegiate players of Haitian background. Several phone calls and a couple of days later, Charles was in South Bend, Indiana to join the national team for their last four days of training. At the end of the fourth day, Borkowski stopped Charles as she was leaving the pitch.
“He invited me and told me he wanted me to go Trinidad with them,” Charles said.
It was there in Trinidad and Tobago, some 3,000 miles from her Drake teammates preparing for their season-opening tournament in Portland, Oregon, that Charles scored the final goal in Haiti’s 5-1 victory over Bermuda. It too, was a tournament: the inaugural Women’s Caribbean Cup.
The Cup was played in August at the end of the Caribbean Football Union’s season, a culmination of performances by all 30 qualifying Caribbean national teams, resulting in an eight-team tournament. The teams with the top four finishes in the Cup then qualified for the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, a World Cup qualifier. Haiti finished third.
The CONCACAF Championship, held this year in Kansas City, takes place over the course of 12 days in October, directly in the midst of Drake’s conference play.
Having already missed several matches for the Caribbean Cup, Charles will miss October matches against conference opponents Missouri State and Illinois State. But her absence, while not celebrated, is understood and supported by both teammates and coaches.
“They knew I was going to be missing games. Everyone’s just genuinely so happy and supportive of me,” Charles said.
Despite this being her first experience balancing collegiate and international play, Charles is aware of players at other schools that have had similar opportunities and were unable to pursue them.
“I know some girls and when they get asked to go and play with other teams outside of their college teams, their coaches can say, ‘no’ and just completely shoot it down,” she said.
Head coach Lindsey Horner envisions only positive impacts on the team, both on and off the field.
“She didn’t know about this opportunity leading into the summer, but her commitment to return from her injury and impact our team on the field this fall drove her,” Horner said.
More than helping her recover from the injury that caused her to miss the entire 2013 season, Charles’ experience training and playing for the Haiti national team has crafted a newfound appreciation for what it takes to play the sport at a higher level.
“We had a morning session and every other day we had a gym workout and then we had a night session,” she said. Conditioning prepared her for the increased level of play.
“I had to figure out how I play with certain players, like figure out their style of play as a team,” Charles said of adjusting to the differences in addition to training. “It was just really fast paced, and the other big part is that it is super physical compared to college and what I am used to. Just kind of on another level all around.”
Horner recognized the significance of experiencing another style of play.
“Going there and competing at a completely different level and seeing how physical it is. Really, just in every aspect of the game, it’s amped up one more notch.”
Horner anticipates Charles’ international play will contribute to the maturity of another facet integral to her redshirt senior captain: her leadership.
“Generve is the player that holds her teammates accountable on the field, talks to players that are struggling and encourages them to stay motivated in their goals, and gets the team fired up before games,” Horner said. “She, in many capacities, is complete. She offers a lot.”
While the passion to lead has always been present in Charles, Horner sees progression in Charles’ leadership abilities from her earlier years at Drake.
“She has evolved into somebody that wants the team to do really well, and she wants everybody to want the team to do really well,” Horner said.
Charles understands that leadership is a skill that can be honed.
“It’s always something I’ve had to build on and try to be better at.”
Amidst buzz surrounding Charles’ competition in international play, Horner looks forward to a season of competition and development for Drake, improving throughout the fall and preparing for a run deep into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
But with only three seniors returning, Horner also stressed the importance of leadership in creating a successful environment.
“A lot of what we’re asking is leading by example, on and off the field. Making sure the culture we create for our new players is that of high-standards,” Horner said.
For Charles, that challenge is a constant in a season split between national and collegiate competition.
“I’ve always wanted to be a good leader, or somebody that can help my teammates. To be somebody who other people look up to.”